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Foxconn's pollutional activities in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China


Description:

Foxconn is the largest electronics manufacturer worldwide. Contracted by the most significant global brands, such as Apple, Intel, Amazon and Sony to name but a few, the company is estimated to manufacture around 40% of all consumer electronics worldwide [1].

It was not until a series of worker suicides in 2010 that the company came into the spotlight for its atrocious working conditions. Low wages and illegal working conditions have been lamented by workers and labour activists alike [2]. It has since been under scrutiny by environmental groups that focus on pollutional activities in the supply chain of Apple. In their second report from 2011 on the matter, a coalition of 5 influential Chinese ENGOs presented their findings from on-site investigations [4].

The Foxconn plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, is one of 12 factories in China known for being key manufacturers of Apple‘s iPhone and iPad series as well as some key accessories. By the summer of 2011, residents of the nearby Hengda Lvzhou Apartments complex had started noticing a strange smell. The stench, which they had first believed to be coming from the sewer system, eventually became unbearable. More complaints of coughs, headaches and stomach problems had the residents pointing their finger directly to the close-by Foxconn factory. Concerned residents had put their hopes into the investigation campaign against Apple expecting that the pressure put upon the company would move both the manufacturer and the government to act accordingly and improve the situation. Not only were they worried about their health, but also about their newly acquired homes in the Hengda Lvzhou Apartments complex. However, the situation deteriorated when visible health problems, such as breathing difficulties and stomach irritations, increased [6].

As early as 2009, local residents had started reacting online to the pollution problems of the factory. Local authorities reacted slowly but, by August 8th, 2010, the website of the Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) of Shanxi Province listed Foxconn in their section Environmental Administrative Penalty --> List of Companies with Supervision --> Environmental Problems” publishing the ‘Investigative Report into the handling of the Environmental Petitions to Foxconn Technology Co., Ltd. regarding Emissions Pollution.” [5]. According to the document, the EPB of Taiyuan made several demands to the company, calling for the monitoring of pollutants and upgrading the facilities. According to a 2010 investigation by the provincial EPB, odours were coming out of the coating workshop and from oil mist created by equipment in the machinery workshop of the Foxconn factory. The Taiyuan EPB expanded the list of environmental pollutants caused by the factory in 2011. The irritant gases were caused by fumes from the coating workshop, odours from the waste-water treatment equipment, oil mist from the machinery workshop and dust from the recycling workshop [3][8].

On August 6th 2011 residents showed their anger about authorities at the local, city, provincial and national level that had not reacted to further countless phone calls: by blocking the road with their cars in front of the factory, around 100 residents attracted the attention of the provincial government. Following the protest, local authorities got in contact with Foxconn and organised several visits for the residents to the factory. Even though channels of communication between Foxconn and the residents had been opened and the company had promised to improve, residents’ complaints did not cease. Having lost their trust in the determination of public officials and institutions, the residents still insist that the only positive outcome would be for Foxconn to leave [5].

A massive brawl of approximately 2000 workers in 2012 lead to a temporary closure of the factory. Even though the company is in denial, workers report that the incident was sparked by the violent treatment of security guards towards workers. Following an intervention including some 5000 policemen, 40 individuals had to be taken to the hospital [7][9].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Foxconn's pollutional activities in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China
Country:China
State or province:Shanxi
Location of conflict:Taiyuan
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Manufacturing activities
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Manufactured Products
E-waste
electronics

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The completion of the Foxconn factury in Taiyuan cost 4,4bn CNY, and gives work to more than 65,000 people [2].

Around 2000 residents inhabit the affected Hengda Oasis community, opposite the Foxconn factory. [7]

Project area:305
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectca. 656,638,000.00
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:2,000
Start of the conflict:01/09/2009
Company names or state enterprises:Foxconn Technology Group 富士康科技集团 from Taiwan
Relevant government actors:Environmental Protection Bureau of Shanxi Province
Environmental Protection Bureau of Taiyuan City
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (公众环境研究中心, wwwen.ipe.org.cn)
-Friends of Nature (自然之友, www.fon.org.cn)
-Green Beagle Environmental Institute (达尔问环境研究所,www.bjep.org.cn)
-Green Stone Environmental Action Network (绿石环境保护中心,www.green-stone.org)
-Huanyou Science and Technology Research Center(环友科技,http://www.huanyoukeji.com/)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents
Other Health impactsWorkers committed suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Violent targeting of activists
Fostering a culture of peace
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Workers report that the brawl was sparked by the violent treatment of security guards towards workers
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Residents are still complaining about pollution caused by the factory. According to local physicians, a large number of residents are suffering from environmental health issues that remain unaddressed. [5]

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] "The other side of Apple II" Research report by Chinese environmental organizations digging Apple’s China supply chain, listing additional suppliers in violation of Chinese environmental standards. (accessed on 07.02.2019)
http://wwwen.ipe.org.cn/reports/report_1746.html

[5] "China And The Environment: The Green Revolution", Sam Geall (Ed); Zed Books, 2013
https://books.google.es/books?id=XN9iDgAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A1780323433&hl=es&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

A 2010 Study by ENGOs about the Heavy Metal Pollution by the IT Brand Supply Chain (accessed on 07.02.2019)
http://www.chinawaterrisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Initial-Study-of-Heavy-Metal-Pollution-by-IT-Brand-Supply-Chain-English-Final.pdf

First report from 2010: "The Other Side of Apple" (accessed on 07.02.2019)
wwwen.ipe.org.cn/reports/report_1744.html

[1] New York Times: "How the US lost out on iPhone Work" (accessed on 07.02.2019)
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html

[2] New York Times: "After Suicides, Scrutiny of China’s Grim Factories" (accessed on 07.02.2019)
https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/business/global/07suicide.html

[4] Article on chinadialogue.net: "Apple: back under the spotlight" (accessed on 07.02.2019)
https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/4495

[6] Article on chinadialogue.net: "Living with Foxonn" (accessed on 07.02.2019)
https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/4921-Living-with-Foxconn

[7]bbc.com: "Foxconn halts production at plant after mass brawl"(accessed on 13.02.2019)
https://www.bbc.com/news/business-19697344

[8] yifeng.com: "富士康再陷苹果污染门 遭居民多次投诉空气污染" (Foxconn relapses in Apples pollution gate, following residents repeated complaints about air pollution)

(accessed on 13.02.2019)
http://tech.ifeng.com/it/special/toxicapple/content-1/detail_2011_09/02/8884476_0.shtml

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[7] Presentation about the case, published by Xueli Zhang for the Wilson Center.
https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Zhang%20Xueli%20Presentation.pdf

[9] Taiwan TV-Station: "富士康太原廠千名員工暴動 公安武警千人鎮壓" (Foxconn Taiyuan factory thousand employees riots Public security armed police thousands of people suppressed) (accessed: 13.02.2019)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tplmzDdNQL4

[10] Online forum discussion on Tianya about the pollution of Foxconn in Taiyuan, including pictures made by residents
http://bbs.tianya.cn/post-269-13182-1.shtml

The Other Side of Apple II: Pollution Spreads through China's Water Supply Chain
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpFz9VAX8zM

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB/LUX 2019
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:4002

Images

 

Picture of the Foxconn factory emitting gases, taken by a resident of the neighbouring community[10]

 

Position of the Hengda Oasis community in proximity to the Foxconn factory[3]

 

A protest T-shirt urging local residents to fight Foxconn's pollution. Picture by Meng Si.[6]